Jess x Anna
Navigating the complexity and non-linear path towards post-traumatic growth
Mental health advocate Jess Mitchell has had a long and complex mental health journey stemming from childhood trauma. Working with artist Anna Paddick, Jess shares experiences through an emotive combination of image, soundscape and spoken word. The work reflects upon Jess’ non-linear path to healing and Jess’ transition from trauma to hope, and from pain to purpose.
Jess Mitchell (pronouns: jess)
This expression was primarily inspired by my suicide attempt in 2018 that was a result of me becoming completely overwhelmed by my complex trauma and its impact on my life. My mental health experiences have been with me since I was a small child. I experienced a great deal of complex childhood trauma and adversity. As it was unsafe for me to express my turmoil, I often turned it upon myself, punishing myself through unhealthy coping mechanisms.
My trauma has manifested in many ways through issues with eating, exercise, mood, impulsivity, self-harm and suicidality. I experience the world in extremes and express myself in the same fashion. I struggle in relationships due to attachment issues. I also frequently become detached with reality. I experience flashbacks, nightmares and am significantly impacted in many facets of daily life by the ongoing impacts of my trauma.
Anna Paddick (she/her)
This creative expression has been formed as a way of honouring and responding to my experience of meeting Jess, and what Jess has shared with me. Jess shared experiences of trauma and turmoil that are consistently represented throughout the piece by the colour yellow, the colour of the house that Jess grew up in. The drone sound that underpins the sound-scape holds a sense of heaviness and continuity throughout the whole duration of the piece. It provided me an opportunity to vocally explore ways that dissonance, intensity, and transformation can arise and take shape in relationship to formative traumatic experiences that stay with us as we move through moments in life.
An integration of trauma, hope, pain, and purpose, are brought together in this piece to depict just a morsel of the post-traumatic growth that Jess continues to experience, as Jess takes courageous opportunities in ordinary moments to build a purposeful life that is grounded in grit, integrity, kindness, creativity, and wisdom. Through this work I mean to tell part of the story of Jess’ ‘ordinary triumph’ – being alive.
MY VISIBLE MESSAGE
Your life can be incredibly meaningful even if it is incredibly painful.
My key message is that the idealised narrative of hope and “it gets better” lacks nuance and often does not portray the reality that we continue to struggle and continue to fall and get back up again. For me, it is really important to communicate that recovery is not linear and that any hope we hold onto must be realistic about the often chronic nature of mental illness.
I want to draw attention to the invisible struggles. I also want to highlight the complexity of childhood adversity as we grow into young people and adults and how it continues to invent new ways to challenge us and surprise us.
I began this process with no idea of what I would create. It was my first priority to get to know Jess, to hear them, feel them, and notice what was enlivened in me. After my first meeting with Jess, I wrote the poem that later became the final statement spoken in the piece. I had been struck by Jess’ own expressive power as a poet and we had connected through a deep appreciation of the poet Maya Angelou, and so it seemed that words had announced themselves as important in this creative process.
Despite the power of words, there were themes, resonances, and emotions that were alive in what Jess and I shared that I felt needed to be held in other ways. Between meetings with Jess, I painted, I drew, I wrote, and I sang in an attempt to find a way of expressing some of the qualities that had arisen through Jess’ sharing.
I immediately felt comfortable, safe and heard with Anna. I was struck by her ability to respond thoughtfully and with a full heart, even writing me a poem after our first half-hour chat. In the final expression, she captured elements of my story that I had never directly shared with her and knew when to exercise restraint where I would have had none.
It was also extremely validating that she included some words of my own poetry I had shared with her in the whispered soundscape and even based the creature version of me off my own drawing from art therapy. This makes the piece a true collaboration and undeniably ours.
Jess Mitchell (pronouns: jess)
Jess is passionate about raising awareness about complex mental illness, intersectionality and suicide. Jess’ lived experiences encompass nuanced interactions between trauma, mood, impulsivity, eating, gender and sexuality. Jess became involved in youth mental health through projects as a member of a Youth Action Group at Melbourne City Mission. Jess has since become a speaker and peer ambassador for Batyr and SANE Australia. Jess has spent the last few years working in a disability frame work of mental health and has an Honours degree in Psychology.
Anna Paddick (she/her)
Anna Paddick is a singer, songwriter, compulsive art-maker, and creative arts therapist from Naarm/Melbourne. She engages in creative processes as a way of expressing, inquiring into, and responding to lived experiences, and as a way of sharing her heart and mind with others. Anna believes that creativity, kindness, curiosity, and collaboration are central to living a meaningful life, and so these qualities are foundational to her ways of making music and art. “I believe that we can heal ourselves and our communities through sharing and valuing our creativity, our imaginations, and our hearts.” Anna Paddick’s 2020 album release ‘Everything I Know’ is available now at annapaddick.bandcamp.com